Villiers was started by John Marston & Son of Sunbeam in 1898, in Villiers Street, Wolverhampton, as a component manufacturer for Sunbeam motorcycles. Their first engine was built in 1911, and the first two-strokes, of 269cc, were produced in 1913.
In the 1890s John Marston's Sunbeam had become extremely successful, by relying on high quality of production and finish. But Marston was dissatisfied with the pedals on his machines. In 1890 he dispatched his son Charles to the USA on a selling trip but included in his instructions that Charles must discuss pedal engineering with Pratt and Whitney in Hartford, Connecticut and come back with a high class pedal and the machinery for making it. Charles said that the Villiers Engineering Company was "the ultimate fruit" of his trip to the USA, being impressed by the production system and the labour saving devices. He pointed out that "it was not possible to develop these at Sunbeamland, which had long been working on another plan, but it was possible to start them in a new factory".
As a result of the tour, in 1898, John Marston bought a small Japanning works based in Villiers Street, Wolverhampton. Under the direction of Charles, the company made cycle parts for the Sunbeam company. As the factory was producing more parts than Sunbeam required, it sold components to other manufacturers.
1902 was a momentous year for Villiers. Firstly, John Marston sold the company to his son Charles for £6,000 on a loan against future profits. Secondly, it developed and patented the cycle free-wheel, which every cycle manufacturer required. The production of free wheels reached its peak just after World War II, as the company produced 80,000 per week. 4 million per year.
In 1911 engine production commenced, but sales were slow until 1913 when the first two stoke was produced. In 1956 Villiers produced its two millionth engine and presented it to the Science Museum in London. In 1936, L E Baynes and Sir John Carden, as Carden Baynes Aircraft Ltd of Heston, Middlesex, launched the Carden Baynes Auxiliary, a light aircraft. This carried a retractable 249cc Villiers engine driving a push-propeller and producing 9 bhp, and the fuel tank held enough to run the engine for thirty minutes. The 249cc Carden Baynes Auxiliary is believed to be the lowest powered aircraft in the history of powered flight.
In 1916 John Marston retired from Sunbeam and he died in 1918. His son Charles then had to deal with the problem of paying death duties on the estate, that tax having been recently introduced. He also wanted to deal with the fact that he had many interests outside industry. He therefore sold off Sunbeam to a group of munitions makers who had done well out of the war and wanted somewhere to put their patriotic gains. Charles kept Villiers Engineering but, in or about 1919, he left the active day to day management of the company. He remained as Chairman but Frank Farrer, as Managing Director, became the leading light. Charles took as active an interest in the affairs of the firm as his other interests allowed. Indeed he was involved in Villiers' attempt to produce a car in 1926. He carefully examined Cadillac, Ford, Chrysler and Piece Arrow, apparently thinking that there would be a market for a high quality, medium sized car produced on modern production line. Villiers employed Leslie Farrer, Frank's nephew, who had been with Austin, to develop the idea. Three prototypes were built but then the project was abandoned on the grounds that competition in the market was too great. They were probably right. This was not the time for a new car manufacturer to appear or even for old ones to expand as, locally, Star and Clyno were to discover.
In 1957 Villiers absorbed JA Prestwich Industries Ltd, makers of the JAP engines. In 1962 the company were claiming that: "jointly the two companies produce a vast range of two-stroke and four-stroke petrol engines and four-stroke diesel engines from 1/3rd to 16 bhp. These are the engines which power many of Britain's two-stroke motor cycles, scooters and three wheelers and the great majority of the motor mowers, cultivators, concrete mixers, etc."
Villiers manufactured a range of single and twin two-stroke engines (from 98cc to 350cc) for light motorcycle and vehicle manufacturers until the 1960s. In the early 1960s the company was taken over by Manganese Bronze, and in 1966 together with AMC became part of Norton Villiers. In 1999 Villiers Plc acquired the healthcare company Ultramind and renamed the company Ultrasis.